Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Are Physical Music Formats Dead?

                                                             
 (Image courtesy of The Guardian: www.guardian.co.uk)

I know this is a topic that's been done to death everywhere (including twice on my blog: HERE and HERE), but I want to touch on it again since it was a year ago that I wrote those posts. My feelings have definitely changed about the key question: Is the physical format for music dead? Does anyone buy CDs anymore?

As I wrote in those previous posts, I have a HUGE CD collection from trying to get my hands on as much of the music as I love. I started when I was 13 in the early 1990s and by the time my wife and I moved to our current house 4 years ago, I had probably close to 1100 CDs. For anyone my age (32) or older, I'm sure you remember the drill: I had racks and rack and RACKS of my CDs set up in my house and a 50-CD Changer stereo system with big speakers for listening to my tunes on demand. I also had a 5-CD changer in my car and a box to keep dozens of discs in at a time in said car for when I was driving around.  Even though I got my first iPod in 2006 and loaded it up with music, I only really used that for running, airplane trips, or hotel stays. Otherwise, it was CDs all the way!

But eventually, I got pissed off having to cart around tons of CDs everywhere. My wife and I grew irritated with how much space all the CDs and their racks took up in our house. I purchased an inexpensive pair of really great sounding, really SMALL speakers (with a dock) that I could simply plug my iPod into anywhere in the house. They took up hardly any space, and they sounded just as good, IF NOT BETTER, than my big clunky stereo system.  Also, my wife and I began to buy the occasional song or albums from iTunes instead of on CD. I found this to be especially nice if there was only a handful of songs I wanted from a certain artists, or if there was an album I liked, but not enough to purchase the physical format.

I should add here that, even though I really like a LOT of different bands and artists, there are only a handful of bands that are in what I call my "Top Tier," meaning I am such a huge fan that I'll buy anything they release and need to have the physical copy of the album for the artwork and liner notes as well as the music. The short list of these artists: Blur, The Beatles, The Who, Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix, Cream, The Kinks, The Smiths, Dream Theater, Rush, Neal Morse, Spock's Beard, The Rolling Stones, and Mansun. I may have left out a few, but it's not that many more, believe me.  So for instance, Blur is releasing a massive 22-disc box set later this summer, which I must have, as they're my favorite band and I'm a bit more than obsessive about them. But for loads of other bands, many of who are *just outside* of this top tier, I feel no such need.

CDs take up too much space in the house: honestly, the last 3-4 years they've all been boxed up in the basement. I have everything on my 160 GB iPod, which I listen to at home (with those tiny, LOUD speakers), in my car, at work with earphones, etc. And when Spotify came to the USA and I got the $9.99/month subscription; well, let's just say that between Spotify and my iPod, I don't miss CDs at all. I have access to 15,000 songs from my personal collection on my iPod (with still more room, another ~30 GB, of storage left on the thing!), as well as MILLIONS of songs on Spotify. Spotify is even better because I can listen to nearly everything I have on my iPod, as well as loads of OTHER music I either used to own on CD/cassette/vinyl, or music I really like but not enough to buy the CD. It's also been great for discovering and re-discovering loads of new and "old-new" music.  It's also been great for rediscovering all of the jazz, blues, and classical music I've loved for years. Instead of having to buy thousands of dollars of CDs and compilations, I can access them all and it's included in my $9.99/month.  (As I right this post, I'm listening to Steely Dan on Spotify, after using my iPod both ways on my commute earlier today and listening to it and Spotify at work. Just to offer some perspective).

I honestly don't miss CDs in the least. In fact, I'm at the point now where I'm going to go through my collection and sell off all of the non-Top-Tier (I'll keep the bands that are just on the bubble, too) CDs to free up space and cash. I have everything backed up, and honestly there's a lot of stuff I used to like that just doesn't do it for me any more so not owning the CD makes little difference to me at this point.

What's been interesting to see is that this trend is not just for adults my age and younger, or for teenagers. My kids know CDs but really, the majority of their lives have been with music either from my iPod, my wife's iPod, or Spotify...hell, my two oldest daughters have their own playlists on Spotify and they're both under 10! It's been surprising to see my parent's generation embracing this (mostly). My uncle and aunt use Apple Airplay to stream all of their music from the server my uncle set up all over their house, and I recently extolled the virtues of Spotify to my uncle, so I bet he's going to check that out soon, if he hasn't already. I showed my mum all about Spotify (she has an iPod, too) and she seemed really interested and said that's next on her list of things to figure out. My dad is a bit of a hold-out...like me, he's drowning in CDs. *BUT*, he has a large-capacity iPod like I do and uses that exclusively for transporting his music in his car, at work, and oftentimes at home. While I don't think he'll ever go for a streaming service like Spotify (when I showed him, he didn't seem interested), I never thought he'd go as far with the iPod as he has. And who knows, maybe once he sees my mum using Spotify, he'll change his tune (no pun intended!).

I'm sure most of you reading this have gone digital with your music to some extent, whether you own an iPod, buy your music via iTunes, use a streaming service like Spotify, Last.FM (I love the audioscrobbler), Mog, Rdio, Pandora, etc, or some other method. 

I'd love to hear your opinion...what is your thought on physical music formats? Do you still buy CDs, and if so, as much as you used to? Why or why not?

Rock on!